Friday, October 27, 2006

I'm published

I guess most people don't make a big deal about the first thing they publish, but I'm not most people. One might think this is lame, especially since I wasn't paid...but there's finally something of mine in published form out there for the world to see (something besides this blog, of course). I feel a little Mary Tyler Moore-ish saying that, but maybe naïvite will become my "thing." Maybe the my midwestern-gal-meets-the-big-city is such an old cliché that it's time has come again...

But I digress. I wrote a backgrounder for Max Schorr, editor-in-chief and publisher of Good magazine, who came to speak at the NYU Department of Journalism on October 25th.

This piece was supposed to go up on the BULLPEN web site before Schorr spoke so people could be lured in by my excellent prose. However, there was a glitch in the process and it went up several days after the fact.

Not to worry, though. I'll be writing a recap of the lecture and that, too, will hopefully be on the BULLPEN homepage next week some time. So I've got that going for me...

Read Backgrounder: Max Schorr

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sip on this...

I swore I didn't want this to become a blog that simply comments on news stories, but I had to post this link when I saw the title "How Microbrew Can Save the World." While I'm putting together my next story, read this ingtriguing article from alternet on the sustainability of microbreweries.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Walking the Line

I have to choose a final research paper topic for my U.S., Latin America, and the Media class. The Immigration debate has been on my mind a lot lately, largely due to the stories popping up about anti-immigration groups like the Minutemen and others (the Southern Poverty Law Center has a good listing of these fringe groups). Think what you will about the border fence, but much of the rhetoric behind some of these vigilante organizations is alarmingly hateful.

Well I'm checking out a new magazine whose founder I may be interviewing next week, and one of the stories in the inaugural issue is about the Border Film Project. A three-person team comprised of a Rhodes Scholar, a filmmaker and a Wall Street analyst gave disposable cameras to people on both sides of the fence and asked them to photograph their worlds. I'm oversimplifying, but read the article or visit the project's web site to find out more.

I don't know if I'm going to try to tackle Immigration in a 2,000-word article, but this project could help narrow it down a little by giving some very unique perspectives.

Don't let these guys bite...

This is the list of the most emailed stories on right now. Check out number 5. Everyone who has interacted with me in the last several months knows that I am psycho about bedbugs. I will not buy used furniture (or take it off the street) after hearing a story about bedbugs on NPR a couple of months ago. It's an epidemic, folks. I told you I'm not crazy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Minor Neuroses

I was at home this afternoon getting ready to go meet a classmate when I heard “Oh my God!” from the other room. My roommate saw a breaking news headline on the Internet and immediately flipped on the TV. By now, everyone and my mother has heard of the small plane that crashed into a high-rise apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, killing Yankees pitcher, Cory Lidle. At the time, it was breaking news.

I sat there in front of the TV set, “antennae up,” as Prof. W. is fond of saying, riveted by the news unfolding just uptown. My first instinct was to head up there and see what I could see. But self-doubt set in before I could get my act together. Who would I talk to? Would anybody take me seriously? How would I get official facts and figures? In reality I knew the answers to these silly questions, but I still let something stop me from heading out the door.

It doesn’t make sense: why should I, an aspiring reporter, be so freaked out by talking to people? I know I’m not the only one going through this. Everybody in my class speaks of similar fears, and we’re told by veteran news people that it gets easier the more you do it. It’s usually a relief talking to sources once I get past the initial hesitation. But there’s so much hesitation that I often block myself from getting what I need on the scene.

If you can’t imagine what this feels like, think about the first time you called a boy or girl you were interested in. It’s that level of butterflies, every time I pick up the phone to call someone for information, or approach somebody for an interview. Will he or she be home when I call? What if they don’t have anything to say? What if they think I’m heinous? Okay, that last one was more something I would think back in college—I mean, high school—I mean middle school, calling a boy.

What’s really the worst that could happen? That’s what I’m supposed to think to myself. Who the hell cares what people think? I’m getting a story, I’ve got noble intentions, and I’m damn cute. But somehow, I’ve got this paranoid-telemarketer complex, like I’m some big intrusion into people’s lives in the middle of dinner.

I certainly don’t mean to make light of today’s plane crash, because it’s very sad but I just wanted to give you a little glimpse into the neurotic mind of a newbie reporter/student. Thank God the country wasn’t relying on me to get the story.

The moronic part of the whole thing is that when I got back from my meeting, there was this email waiting for me from Prof. W.:
Dear Reporters,

I just learned that a small aircraft has crashed into a residential building at 524 East 72d St.
The crash occurred at about 2:45, news reports say.

If any of you are free and want the practice of doing either a news story or a sidebar story, this is a great opportunity, if you are able and willing.

Please contact me immediately at _________, if you are interested.

Professor W.

I felt awesome after that. I was definitely free (the classmate I was meeting would have understood if I had to cancel). I was able and willing. But Fraidy-Cat Suzanne didn’t want to go. Next time, I’ll have to stuff Fraidy-Cat Suzanne in the closet and Bold News-Getter Suzanne will be free to go to the scene.

Image borrowed respectfully from fotosearch

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Quintessential Mensch

People who knew Abe Zelmanowitz describe him as a soft spoken, gentle man who did everything for everybody. His composure and aura of calm gave coworkers a reason to seek out his cubicle when they were stressed out on the job. His generosity showed up in both simple acts, like cooking for his elderly parents every month, and grand acts, like the one that ultimately led to his demise. Instead of leaving Tower 1 of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Zelmanowitz chose to stay with his friend, Ed Beyea, a quadriplegic man who could not be carried down the stairs due to his heavy stature.

A Marina Park street was renamed Tuesday in memory of Zelmanowitz, whom the city, and most everyone who hears his tale, consider a 9/11 hero. The street, E. 35th St. at King’s Highway, will now be sub-named “9/11/01 Hero Abe (Avremel) Zelmanowitz Way.”

Family, friends and former neighbors gathered to pay tribute to Zelmanowitz, who lived with his brother and sister-in-law just down the block from where his name is now immortalized on a street sign.

“It serves as a phenomenal inspiration to each and every one of us that in his death he taught us to live” said Council Member Lewis Fidler, who officiated at the ceremony and sponsored the legislation to rename the street. “I very much hope that people will understand what we mean by ‘9/11 hero.’ That what he did and how he did it really tells young people what heroism about, what courage is about, what selflessness is about.”

Zelmonowitz’s story of selflessness inspired people all over the country to write letters to his brother and sister-in-law, who keep every written tribute to him in a book that they show to visitors with pride. But the tributes to and commemorations of how he died are less important than how he lived, said Nancy Zelmanowitz, who is married to Abe’s nephew, Chaim. “If you had met us before [September 11th], and you had asked anyone about him, you would have heard the same stories.”

You would have surely heard stories about the unlikely friendship between Zelmanowitz, a tall, reserved, orthodox Jew, and Beyea, a large, boisterous Irish Catholic man, confined to a wheelchair after a diving accident some 20 years ago. The pair met as computer programmers at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and bonded over a love of music and books, said Evelyn Zelmanowitz, Abe’s sister-in-law. The two had a playful relationship at work that was characterized by a lighthearted one-upmanship. Whenever the pair dined at restaurants alone or with colleagues, Abe always made sure that the place had a wheelchair ramp, and Ed always made sure that the restaurant was Kosher.

Their bond was made painfully clear to Zelmanowitz’s family members the day of the attacks, as he spoke to them by phone. He told his brother, Jack, that he had sent Beyea’s personal aid down to safety and that he would be taking care of his friend until help arrived.

As the shock set in during the days, weeks and years to follow, friends and loved ones decided that they needed to have some kind of permanent tribute to Zelmanowitz, who was known to everyone in the largely Orthodox neighborhood as “Avremel.” Barry Smith, Past President of the Frasier Civic Association, was instrumental to getting the word to the community board. Smith was present for the dedication and appeared moved, even though he never met Zelmanowitz. “A French philosopher said ‘you never truly die until the last person who utters your name passes,’” he said, pointing to the new street sign. “This will serve as a notice to who this is.”

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ethical question of the week

FYI, the original post was silly and unnecessary. For the record, the person the original post was about has very good manners, is very nice, and a good person. I wrote the post because I don't know how to be direct and wanted advice. But that will change.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beat Notes: Burlesque and Other Remnants of Art Star Culture Manage to Survive Lower East Side Rentrification

On a Wednesday night in early October, 2006, a proudly voluptuous African-American woman named Tangerine Jones stumbled onto the stage of the Bowery Poetry Club and lethargically tried to take off her evening dress. But before she could get herself unzipped, Jones collapsed on the stage holding an empty bottle of red wine.

It was all part of an act, of course. The audience went wild over this pseudo-risqué version of the Hokey Pokey. Jones was one of a lineup of bold and brassy entertainers who performed in October’s rendition of Surf Burlesque on the Bowery, whose theme was “fallen women.”

For the performers, bar staff, and even audience members who had paid eight dollars to see this evening of campy strip tease, the show had a certain “lost New York” feel about it.

Burlesque may be back in style, but clubs that cater exclusively to non-traditional comedy and performance are a dying breed in downtown Manhattan, where an ultra-competitive real estate market has rendered the future of counterculture performance quite uncertain.

In 2003, the Lower East Side club, Surf Reality, held its last evening of alternative comedy because owner Robert Pritchard couldn’t pay the rent. For ten years, he had been paying $3,500 for two adjacent lofts—one that housed the club and the other that housed his family—at the corner of Stanton and Allen streets. Then one day, the landlord asked for $8,000 for the 2,500-square foot combined space, plus two percent more every year, in addition to property taxes.

In an October, 2006 interview with this reporter, Pritchard explained that his club had survived for a decade as a haven for “Art Stars” whose brand of edgy humor was not accepted at conventional clubs. Somewhere between improv comedians and performance artists, the Art Stars created a culture of acceptance at their open mikes to give performers room to push the boundaries of self-expression.

Although he was admittedly “the world’s worst businessman,” Pritchard did not stand a chance against the onslaught of development that had begun to infringe upon his beloved Lower East Side.

While Surf Reality helped give rise to comedians like Dave Chappelle, The Upright Citizens Brigade, and Sarah Jones, all of whom have since caught the attention of the mainstream entertainment industry, Pritchard did not seek fame for his little loft theatre. All he wanted was a place for performers to be themselves. Many others had the same noncommercial ambitions, and for several years, the Art Star community flourished in the dingy tenements of the Lower East Side. Now these venues are an endangered species.

It is almost unthinkable, by today’s standards, that these clubs did not sell alcohol or other refreshments. They relied on nominal fees paid by performers, who in turn were compensated by money paid at the door. Nowadays, selling alcohol is almost essential for a small performance venue to survive. “There were seven storefront theaters is 1998 on the L.E.S. Now there are zero,” said Reverend Jen, a local open mike celebrity and friend of Pritchard’s, in an email. “Luna Lounge where I performed on Mondays got bulldozed. Collective [Unconscious] where I did my open mike for ten years, got bulldozed and Surf Reality where I performed every Sunday night is now a Bikram yoga studio.”

To walk through the Lower East Side in 2006 is to see that the starving artist of yore no longer has a place amongst hipster lounges, boutique restaurants and couture bakeries.

Yet it was only ten years ago that the musical, “Rent,” first glorified the struggle of downtown bohemians to live and make art in a city whose corporate transformation was disenfranchising their creative community, block by block. This struggle, which was still pertinent when the show debuted in 1996, ended with the closure of clubs like Pritchard’s.

But where did the Art Stars go? Not necessarily to the outer boroughs, as one might expect. In Surf Reality’s case, the “show goes on” in the same neighborhood that forced Pritchard to close his own doors. He hosts Surf Burlseque every month at the Bowery Poetry Club, located at 308 Bowery at Bleecker St. “I’m not disgusted,” he says, when asked why he has not turned his back on the borough that shunned him, “I’m just sticking up for what I believe in.”

By booking space at likeminded venues that have beefed up their food and liquor sales in order to stay open, Surf Reality is surviving in a piecemeal fashion until it can stand on its own two feet once more.

Surf Burlesque is just one example of how the anti-establishment former club owner has managed to keep his legacy alive. Pritchard also hosts monthly installments of Radical Vaudeville and Faceboyz Open Mike (an institution itself since the heyday of Surf Reality) at MoPitkin’s House of Satisfaction, on Avenue A at Third Street.

These shows are considered cultural vanguards amidst the traditional poetry slams, standup comedy, and other “safe” forms of entertainment around them. “Things are becoming homogenized very quickly,” said Tangerine Jones, in an email. Jones just started performing Burlesque in 2005 but has lived in New York for several years. “I think the performance venues shutting down is indicative of a larger issue in this city. The arts don't have the sort of organic space to gestate as they did before.”

That larger issue, according to Pritchard, is that money is now more important than anything else. “We’re a market with a town around it and we used to be a town with a market in it.” Yet he does not deny that this market, to some extent, is vital to a venue’s success. In reference to the yuppies who have become his new neighbors and are starting to become audience members, Pritchard says, “we need them. We seduce them. Then we insult them. We say ‘buy our art,’ but don’t steal our aesthetic.’”

It would be hard to imagine a Lower East Side without this aesthetic, which may be why Pritchard and his Surf Reality cronies are still holding their ground.

Copyright © 2006 by Suzanne

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

podcast of pointless singing: Podcast Of Pointless Singing #1

I came upon this while surfing BlogExplosion to try to get more traffic for my site. I'm sure this person will be thrilled to get the publicity. It made me laugh out loud. Click on the title of the post when you get to the new page to hear an awesome song: podcast of pointless singing: Podcast Of Pointless Singing #1

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Media Analysis: 2006 Mexican Presidential Elections

The following is a recent assignment from my United States, Latin America & the Media class. We were asked to compare three articles from three different U.S. papers covering the August presidential elections in Mexico and discuss whether the writer/paper's bias or slant was apparent. We were supposed to use news stories but I chose commentary pieces because I wanted to. Leave a comment if you want me to email you copies of the articles to which I'm referring. Couldn't reprint them here because I'd get in trouble.

Originally Written: 18 September 2006

To compare perspectives of the 2006 Mexican presidential election, I chose commentaries from the Denver Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. All pieces were written between Jul. 13 and Jul. 16, a moment when Andrés Manuel López Obrador was fighting vehemently for a full recount.

In a piece entitled “Americas: AMLO’s Last Stand” (Wall Street Journal, Jul. 14, 2006, pg. A.13), Mary Anastasia O’Grady harshly criticizes Obrador’s embarrassing post-election behavior. O’Grady opens with a satirical reference to Richard III, writing, “Now is the summer of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s discontent.” In making such a comparison, not only does O’Grady paint Obrador as “[seeing] himself as the victim of a world out to get him,” but also implants the idea in the reader’s mind that Obrador is malevolent and tyrannical, like the infamous King.

O’Grady goes on to berate Obrador’s conduct, reducing his stature by using his nickname, AMLO, and indicating his childishness by calling him “a bully” who is “out to get even.” With no mention of Obrador’s political merits or lack thereof, this is a pure attack on his character. What’s more, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is depicted as flawless (“the IFE has been heroically true to the legal code”) while the Mexican left is seen as an out-of-control circus that is laughably inferior to its American counterpart (“Mexico’s left-of-center looks more like El Jurassic Park than FDR’s Hyde Park”). And Calderon is left conspicuously out of the conversation.

In a more pragmatic commentary entitled “Steal his thunder by recounting the votes; Lopez Obrador’s challenge to Mexico’s election results could be easily defused” (Los Angeles Times, Jul. 13, 2006, pg. B.11), Denise Dresser suggests that the best way for Mexico to move past the controversy surrounding the elections is to go ahead with a full recount. Dresser validates both Obrador’s “right to legally question the results of a close election,” and the country’s “right to demand that he respect its results.” The piece presents a somewhat balanced argument, but is biased against Obrador, implying that a recount would somehow placate him, or “tame” him. Dresser sees Obrador as a pest who must be dealt with or a child who must be forced to “play by the rules,” rather than a potential candidate with a legitimate claim.

Despite Dresser’s pointed criticism of certain National Action Party (PAN) leaders’ conduct (Fox creates enemies whenever he calls Lopez Obrador’s supporters “renegades;” Calderon gives critics more reason to dislike him by “acting as if he won”) she clearly believes that Calderon will ultimately be the winner, but that this needs to be proven before the country can move on.

David W. Dent calls for a recount as well, in “Governing will be tough in a polarized Mexico” (Denver Post, Jul. 16, 2006, pg. E.03). Yet Dent’s reasoning is that “there are enough irregularities to require a full recount of what happened on July 2.” In a rare show of support for Obrador by an American columnist, Dent does not cast overwhelming doubt on the PRD candidate, but suggests something might be awry in the IFE’s conduct. Dent also links President Bush with Calderon, stating that Bush’s “decision to congratulate Calderon for his victory was ill-timed and embarrassing…” In bringing Bush into the picture, Dent implies an American association or perhaps even influence on Calderon and his party. The other two pieces do not acknowledge such a connection.

Copyright © 2006 Suzanne